25 years ago, with help from Russia, the self-proclaimed “Transnistrian Moldovan Republic” gained de facto independence following a war between separatists and the Moldovan military. Since then, Transnistria — a sliver of an enclave on Moldova’s eastern border with Ukraine — has existed as if frozen in time, fiercely loyal to its Soviet past.
However, according to Viktor Kryzhanivskyi, Ukraine’s special representative on Transnistrian settlement, the people of Transnistria are ready for change.
“The new generation of Transnistrians knows that they are in an enclave,” he says. “Imagine their position: their documents are not recognized, it is unclear who they represent, they want to live in a normal European country.”
However, unlike in the past, Kryzhanivskyi believes that the Transnistrian authorities are now potentially prepared to negotiate the republic’s reintegration into Moldova. As one of Transnistria’s neighbours, Ukraine supports this idea.
“I have a very clear mandate from the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko: to work so as to maximize the strengthening of Moldova's sovereignty and the reintegration of the Transnistrian region into its composition,” Kryzhanivskyi says.
Hromadske sat down with Viktor Kryzhanivskyi, special representative of Ukraine on Transnistrian settlement, talk about what’s changed in Transnistria and what to expect in the breakaway region’s future.
In 2008, you said there were no points of contact between the different sides of this conflict. What about now?
Over these two months I have already visited Chisinau and Tiraspol twice. I met the same people with whom I worked with 7-9 years ago, but who today hold different positions. Therefore, we did not have to waste time getting to know each other, we immediately started negotiations.
I had a feeling of deja vu, as if I did not go anywhere. The same problems remain, mainly of socio-economic nature. The situation has not changed much. Negotiations are not easy.
If that’s what I said in 2008, that’s probably the way it was. But when I left the post in 2010, there was progress. Moldovan citizens live on both the left and the right bank of the Dniester and they need their economic questions be solved somehow. It is very important.
But Ukraine and other mediators are interested in the issue of preserving the sovereignty of Moldova and its entire territory, as well as the reintegration of Transnistria into a single state. Therefore, when I held meetings in Chisinau and Tiraspol, I reported that I have a very clear mandate from the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko: to work so as to maximize the strengthening of Moldova's sovereignty and the reintegration of the Transnistrian region into its composition.
Is it clear from your communication with the authorities of the unrecognized Transnistria that they are interested in reintegration?
I met Vadim Krasnoselsky (head of the unrecognized republic - ed.), and Vitaly Ignatiev (representative of the unrecognized republic in the negotiation process) within these two months. I have a feeling that they are ready to discuss reintegration. They understand that it will not be possible to delay this forever. At some stage they will be held with the help of the Russian Federation, but this won’t be happening forever. The new generation of Transnistrians know that they are in an enclave. Imagine their position, their documents are not recognized, it is unclear who they represent, they want to live in a normal European country.
I said to Krasnoselsky: our role is to convince you to sit down at the negotiating table and start seriously talking about the status of your region as part of Moldova. I have a very candid relationship with him, I know him from my first term, when he was "Minister of Internal Affairs". I explained that now we will be having a more rigid conversation with them. Because of what is happening with Russia.
They say: we are ready to speak about the status, but we need a document. "What kind of status are you offering us?" I was a bit confused, it turned out that no one has yet pictured what this status should be.
I'm in Chisinau saying: let's speed this up, we need to put something on the negotiations table. Otherwise, the argument that we have nothing to discuss are really strong. I said that I am personally ready to work on the documents as much as needed.
And how do the Transnistrian authorities see the status of the region?
They would like something along the lines of a federation, a confederation. To have an impact not only on decision-making of a socio-economic nature, but also on more serious matters: foreign policy, for example, defense. But, of course, no one will give that to them. And they understand this. Therefore, there won’t be a federation or confederation there. Chisinau is clear on the position – it will be autonomous.
If Transnistria integrates into Moldova, their presence there will not be a priori. How can they be present there, if this is part of Moldova. They will say: guys, what are you doing here?
A representative of the Russian Federation, Sergei Gubarev, was supposed to be at the talks in Vienna. But he cancelled the visit. I was going to talk to him, he is also an intermediary. But he did not come when I was there, he arrived the next day. I offered to stay to the Austrians. But they said he wants to speak tete-a-tete. This behavior demonstrates what interest they have. They know our position. They know what I’m taking to Vienna, Chisinau, Tiraspol. Therefore, he has no interest in discussing everything with me. I will immediately raise a number of questions that he will be embarrassed to hear and have no answer for. Although, of course, we will meet: on November 27 in Vienna. Everyone will be there: all sides of the conflict, and mediators, and observers.